Day 1: Hanoi, Vietnam
Welcome to Hanoi. Although it is the modern-day capital of Vietnam, Hanoi still retains the mystery and charm of past centuries. Narrow lanes and traditional shop houses invite exploration by cyclo, while its many beautiful public spaces - lakes, parks, tree-lined boulevards and monuments - give the city an air of elegance and harmony with nature unique among Asian capitals. And everywhere there are motorcycles, some of which seem to carry whole families or impossibly huge bundles of goods.
VIP airport services: meet our representative at the immigration custom, he will escort you to the fast track services as well as also assist you throughout the visa process and carry your luggage. After the arriving process is finished, he will escort you to the gate where you will meet our guide and driver. Then you will be transferred to your hotel. Sofitel Legend Metropole Hotel – Grand Prestige Suite (Opera Wing)
Day 2: Hanoi
This morning, you meet your guide and driver and head towards Hoan Kiem Lake. It is the custom in Vietnam to wake very early and start the day with some exercise. You get a glimpse of this early morning ritual as people, mostly women of various ages, start their busy routine. Several groups can be spotted practicing tai chi and aerobics. You can participate and join the locals in the morning routine. After visiting the Ngoc Son Temple in the middle of the Hoan Kiem Lake, enjoy a cup of coffee at a traditional, local coffee place. Try Vietnam’s local coffee, Cà phê sữa đá (Iced coffee), or the well-known ‘Egg coffee’. Continue your walk with a stop at a street food shop to sample delicious ‘bánh mì’ – a typical baguette sandwich. Later, discover the heart of Hanoi’s Old Quarter with its traces of distinctive French colonial architecture. St. Joseph Cathedral is a classic French gothic building dating from 1886. Next is the famous Hoa Lo Prison, where both Vietnamese, American and French prisoners of war were held. The morning ends at Huu Tiep Lake, better known as ‘B-52 lake’, where US B-5 bomber wreckage can be seen.
At noon, you enjoy lunch at the Press Club, one of the best French restaurants in the city. After lunch, drive to Nguyen Hong My’s house. Enter this residential neighborhood of Hanoi, drink tea and immerse yourself in an unforgettable story. As a young man at engineering college, Hong My was approached to take a test. This test would change the course of his life. He was sent to flight school in Russia and returned one of only 120 qualified fighter pilots in the country. He took to the skies to defend his country. You have a rare opportunity to listen the other side of this dramatic war-time story through his incredible story. Spend time with him in his home looking through old photographs, books and testimonials of his courage. His war stories are fascinating but his story post-war is possibly even more so. Remarkably, 30 years later, he was able to meet two Americans, the US pilot that he shot down and the US pilot who shot him down! They are friends today.
Then, take in the Temple of Literature, built in 1076. Vietnam’s first university was established within this temple to educate Vietnam's royalty, mandarins and members of the elite. The university functioned for 700 years. Its gardens and well-preserved architecture offer a fascinating glimpse into Vietnam’s past.
Your last stop of the day will be on the Hanoi railway tracks. This is very particular to Hanoi as the railway tracks are sometimes located just feet away from entrance residential doors! Together with your guide, you will walk along the railway tracks and take some of the most unique scenes of the city. End the day with evening drinks at well-known Bia Hoi, where you can sample local draft beer.
Note: On today’ s tour you will be trying different street food specialties, therefore we recommend avoiding breakfast at the hotel this day! Sofitel Legend Metropole Hotel – Grand Prestige Suite (Opera Wing) (B,L)
Day 3: Hanoi / Danang / Hoi An
This morning, you see serene Halong Bay from a helicopter. Setting off from just outside Hanoi, you travel above the countryside as you make your way to the coast. Crossing rice fields and rivers, you savor unforgettable views of northern Vietnam. When you arrive at the coast, you take on a whirlwind tour of the UNESCO site. Glide amongst the limestone stacks and see this natural wonder from a perspective most never experience. Then, fly back Noi Bai airport in Hanoi where you are transferred in time to connect your schedule flight to Danang.
On arrival at the Danang airport, meet your private chauffeur who will then transfer you to your resort where the rest of the day is free. Four Seasons The Nam Hai – Three Bedroom Beach Front Pool Villa (B)
Day 4: Hoi An
This morning your guide will pick you up from your hotel to start your walking tour of the Hoi An Central Market. Although an all-day market, getting there early means you avoid the crowds and can watch the interactions of locals preparing for the day. As you explore the seemingly endless alleyways, you visit a number of local workshops and see how the locals live as well as visit cultural important sites of Hoi An.
Be prepared to smile a lot and say hello as people love to engage and are proud of the little communities that have grown up in these narrow alleyways. Take a break for tea or other drink on a veranda overlooking the river. Watch fishing and tour boats glide through the waters while enjoying a refreshing drink. From here, continue through the Old Town while your guide tells stories about the town, explaining local customs and fun facts about life here. Pass through the famous Japanese covered bridge. Your final stop of the morning stops to visit a local family who will show us the skills required to make your own hand-made lantern. After your lantern-making lesson, you stroll back through the old town where you end the tour at a Hoi An restaurant.
This afternoon you are in for a real treat. Meet internationally renowned photographer Rehahn, who has travelled extensively throughout Vietnam, capturing the culture of ethnic minority communities with his camera but also witnessing firsthand the fragility of some ethnic groups’ cultural heritage.
Having already met 45 of the 54 ethnic groups in Vietnam, he has created lasting relationships with them and with his museum of images, where traditional costumes and everyday items showcase their cultures to a wider audience. Rehahn is able to tell you stories of his travels, encounters with minority tribes and share morning coffee outside his gallery with you. He’s certainly someone you want to meet while in Hoi An! Four Seasons The Nam Hai – Three Bedroom Beach Front Pool Villa (B,L)
Day 5: Hoi An / Danang / Saigon This morning, savor a private cooking class in your hotel with the Academy Chef. The focus is Hanoi cuisine. You go on a guided journey through the heart of the oldest and busiest market in Hoi An to gain insights into Vietnamese food found in the old quarter’s myriad of street stalls. Bun Cha is a favorite dish that has spread through the entire country. On the cooking menu you find dishes: 1. Appetizer/Snack: Crispy crab roll; 2. Green mango salad with dry beef; 3. Grilled pork, vermicelli noodles, sweet and sour dipping sauce (Bún Chả); and 4. Main Grilled fish, turmeric and dill (Chả Cá Lã Vọng). After you have finished the cooking class and lunch, you check out of your hotel and are transferred to the Danang airport for your flight to Ho Chi Minh City Previously Saigon). Upon arrival in Saigon you are met by your driver who will transfer you to your hotel.
This evening, experience the city from a one of the rooftop bars in Saigon. With incredibly beautiful 270-degree views of the city, our rooftop bar is the perfect place to unwind after a day on your feet exploring! With an array of cocktails and some delicious bar snacks, there aren’t many views of the city with this kind of service. Park Hyatt – Presidential Suite (B)
Day 6: Saigon
This morning you are picked up from your hotel to begin your early morning walk through Tao Dan Park in the center of Saigon. As a relaxed, shaded location, it is a lovely way to start the day. Enjoy the sounds of song birds, have a local coffee to get you moving and watch as locals start their daily routine with Yoga, Tai Chi, badminton and much more. Then take a short walk to the Venerable Thich Quang Duc (Burning Monk) Monument, a dedication to the subject of that infamous and tragic photo during the war. Stop for a hot bowl of breakfast soup before heading to Cho Lon, known as the Chinatown of Saigon. Cho Lon is a feast for the senses from pagodas to parks, local craftsmen to lively children on their way to school. Our guide will lead you through the winding backstreets, providing context as you go describing the daily life of residents and the history of such an iconic area including an unseen building that was directly involved in the reunification movement. Take a moment to stop and make some of the well-known sugarcane juice and taste a sample. A great way to rehydrate as you explore.
Drive back to the downtown, where you are dropped off at an old apartment block. The residents have come together and transformed their homes into funky, stylish, unique coffee shops. If you are interested in visiting the apartment or enjoy the coffee before or after the lunch, your guide will see to it. Enjoy lunch at the Vietnam House restaurant.
This afternoon, you travel in the only way a VIP should. After a short transfer to the pier, board your Five-Star speedboat for the journey down the Saigon River to Cu Chi. You arrive hours before the large crowds. Here, with the place almost to yourselves, your guide shares personal stories and tells you the intriguing history of the area. The famed tunnel complex was built by guerilla fighters beginning in 1940 and construction continued throughout the Vietnam War, which the Vietnamese refer to as the American War. Marvel at secret trapdoors, underground kitchens, living quarters, and even conference rooms. You’ll have ample opportunity to view the excavated areas from above. The more adventurous can explore the deeper second and even third-level tunnels. You will see the sun set on the horizon from your speedboat while returning to Saigon. Park Hyatt – Presidential Suite (B)
Day 7: Saigon / Depart
This morning you meet with Tim Doling, noted historian and author at the Grand hotel. Tim will share stories about the history of Vietnam such as how a shrewd marriage alliance in 1620 enabled the Nguyễn lords of Đàng Trong (Southern Vietnam) to manipulate the Cambodian royal succession and subsequently to promote successive waves of settlement throughout the Mekong Delta, eventually transforming the entire region into Vietnamese territory by 1770. He highlights the crucial role played in what the Vietnamese call the Nam Tiến (“March Southward”) by refugee Chinese. These supporters of the overthrown Ming dynasty carved out new territories in the Mekong Delta on behalf of the Nguyễn lords. They founded markets and ports, and established a thriving economy based on the shipping and processing of rice. Crucially, it shows how these Chinese settlers laid the essential groundwork for Saigon’s development into today’s economic powerhouse by founding its sister-city of Chợ Lớn.
Tim examines the policies of the French colonial authorities, who after 1867 built on the firm economic foundations laid by their Nguyễn predecessors. They placed more land under cultivation and facilitated the work of the Chinese merchants, thereby transforming their first colony of Cochinchine and its capital Saigon into a prosperous Far Eastern enclave.
The author also brings the story up to date with an overview of the two Indochina Wars, the division of the country from 1955 to 1975 and the reconstruction that has taken place since Reunification in 1975. The policies of the reconstruction have restored Saigon, now Hồ Chí Minh City, to its former role as a dynamic center of trade and commerce.
Throughout the talk, Tim introduces a range of important historic buildings that have played a part in
Saigon’s story and may still be visited today. After the talk, he escorts you for a short sightseeing walk through the District 1. After the tour, you return to your hotel to freshen up before you are picked up for your afternoon transfer to the Saigon airport in time to connect your international flight back to Hong Kong and onward. (B)
Land only, double occupancy: Price from $5,300 per person per day